Tuesday, September 2, 2014

apple tart + spiced pastry cream + cinnamon shortbread

"Down the last rolling hill where the perfect untrampled grass met the erratic dirt, the maple trees blushed. The wind blew a subtle sweetness through the woods and it mixed with the grass as it came up and filled the air with the scent of autumn."

That's a snippet of the book I'm trying to write with my brother. But it's also a testament to how busy this past year has been. I just want to say thank you to everyone who has made our recipes and followed us from the very beginning. Over this past year, I've come across nothing but warmth and support from all of you in the food blogging universe, which you may be familiar, is notorious for being intensely cutthroat and competitive (or so I've been told, I'm still new to this). 

With our one year anniversary in concurrence with the official start of the autumn season I thought it would only be proper to make something that epitomizes the elegance and flavors of the new harvest. This decked out apple tart consists of a cinnamon shortbread tart shell, filled with a pastry cream spiked with autumn spices and topped with sliced apples. I mean does it get any better? (no it doesn't)

*ingredients are at the bottom, directions you have to read

To start this spiced apple tart we have to make the crust. For this recipe I decided to go with a super simple shortbread spiked with a little cinnamon. Just to give you some sensory input this recipe will yield a super crumbly and crunchy crust that tastes a lot like a snickerdoodle. 

Just so the food processor can process your dough easier, cut up the butter into cubes before putting them in the freezer to chill. Cold butter with ensure that the gluten in the flour doesn't develop as much and the result will be a crumblier, crunchier crust. Note if you forget to cut up your butter before freezing it, dip your knife in hot water and cut it over a towel so it doesn't slip and you don't cut your fingers, or worse scratch your expensive countertops. (maybe I got the order wrong)

In a food processor, dump in the dry ingredients for your crust. That would be the flour, brown sugar, confectioner's sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Pulse it to get rid of any large lumps. Then, add your chilled butter and let it run until the mixture resembles fine to coarse sand. Drizzle in your ICE cold water a tablespoon at a time until a nice dough comes together. You're looking for a dough that isn't too wet, but comes together when you squeeze it in your hands. 

Bring the dough together, trying to knead as little as possible and wrap it in plastic to rest in the fridge. Rest for twenty minutes. 

If you get paid by the hour, you can watch netflix or surf the web in the meantime, but, my producers would like to add that the more productive approach would be to start on the pastry cream. Pastry cream of creme patisserie if you want to make it seem more french (difficult), is just a really simple filling thickened with egg yolks and cornstarch. Traditionally it comes just flavored with vanilla, sometimes people put chocolate in it, but no one that I'm aware of has made a autumn spiced pastry cream. First we need to talk spices.

What you see above is a nutmeg surrounded by allspice. I store these whole so they retain their flavor the whole year. Plus it's so much more impressive when someone comes to visit and you're cooking with whole spices they can't recognize. (it makes them look so dumb, and you much smarter and more exotic) 

For the allspice I'll just grind up a few seeds in a spice grinder. The nutmeg is easier, just grate it on a microplane. By grinding and grating the spices you're releasing essential oils. You may not have known you were, but I can assure you you could smell it. 

Add the allspice, nutmeg, ground ginger, salt, and cinnamon to a saucepan. Along with the spices add 1 3/4 cup of milk, a 1/3 cup of brown sugar, and the vanilla. Whisk and put it on medium to come up to a simmer. Once it comes up to a simmer, cut the heat and set it aside. In the meantime separate six egg yolks, add to it the cornstarch, a 1/2 cup of milk, and the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. Whisk till smooth. Now in one hand pour the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, and with the other whisk constantly so the eggs don't curdle. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan and whisk constantly over medium heat until it thickens, about a minute. At first you'll think nothing is going on but keep whisking. It'll suddenly get thick and you'll be so happy you didn't leave to finish that netflix episode you started when you were waiting for the crust.

Keep whisking it to get rid of any lumps. Cover it with plastic wrap remembering to touch the plastic to the cream so it doesn't form a skin. Refrigerate until needed. It'll get thicker as it cools. (remember to taste for seasoning, and then taste three more times for good luck)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 10 inch tart pan preferably with a removable bottom. I wish I had one of those pans with a decorative rim, but I'm cheap. And lazy. Mostly lazy. You can flour the pan as well but I think that's redundant seeing we have so much butter and flour in the dough. The butter may have also been redundant. Press the dough into the pan and work it so it covers the bottom evenly and runs up the sides. Don't worry if it's not perfect. I'll let you in on a little secret. Rustic food is just food that chefs messed up or are too lazy to make perfect. On a completely unrelated topic I consider all my food rustic. 

Dock the bottom of the crust and cover it with a buttered sheet of foil. Fill the pan with baking beans or uncooked rice. This will cook the dough without letting it brown too much. We call this blind baking. After ten minutes, pour the beans out (you can still reuse them) and remove the foil. Bake it again for another 5-10 minutes until the bottom is golden brown. I've quoted Anne Burrell here before, "brown food is tasty food!" Let it cool for fifteen minutes before you even think about unmolding it. In another meantime, fill a pastry bag with the cooled down pastry cream. Pastry cream tends to be gloppier because of the cornstarch so I think piping it makes the final assembly easier and prettier. 

Finally unmold. Pipe your cream circularly starting from the center out. The pastry cream that's left in the bag is the chef's cut because you and I both know we deserve.  

Refrigerate it so it sets. In the final meantime, I promise, core and thinly slice some apples. I think mine are Gala apples or Fuji I'm not sure. Just use an apple you like to eat and it'll all be good. Toss the sliced apples in a bowl of lemon juice and water so they don't oxidize. The lemon juice also makes the apples taste sweeter. 
Finally, line the tart with the apples slices as shown above. As you can see I overlap mine so I can fit as much apples on as possible, plus it makes a cool spiral design at the end. Keep going around until you've completely lined the perimeter. Then the next spiral go around the other way. Lastly garnish with the prettiest apple slices sticking up from the center. 

It's important you let this chill before you cut into it. If you don't you'll have a mess when you serve it. Those of you who can't wait you can put it in the freezer so it cools quicker. When you're ready to serve you can brush the top with calvados or apple marmalade to make the top shine. I forgot to do that so...don't forget to serve cold.

All that's left to do is enjoy this delicious spiced apple tart. Usually my favorite part about a tart is the crust, but this time I genuinely couldn't decide which I liked better, the filling or the crust. The pastry cream could not have turned out any better than it did. Every bite literally brings back poignant memories of Thanksgivings past. Just the perfect balance of spices and flavors. Those apples also add another layer of complexity to the tart, not to mention they make it look awesome too. Happy one year anniversary Chow. And as always, 



for the cinnamon shortbread

2 cups flour
1 cup butter, also 2 sticks or 16 tablespoons
3 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cinnamon
2-3 tablespoon ice water, add one tablespoon at a time pulsing after every addition

for the spiced pastry cream 

2 1/4 cup milk, divided 1 3/4 cup + 1/2 cup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2/3 cup brown sugar, divided 1/3 cup + 1/3 cup
a drip of vanilla extract, not too much or it'll be overpowering
6 large egg yolk
1/3 cup cornstarch

1-2 apples for arranging on the top
apple marmalade or calvados to brush the top

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